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ECU historian Henry Ferrell has published two histories of the university in honor of ECU’s centennial. The university celebration will begin this year on March 8 and continue for more than two years with events commemorating the timeframe between approval by the N.C. Legislature in 1907 and the first students arriving for class on Oct. 5, 1909. (Photo by Marc J. Kawanishi)

ECU Kicks Off Centennial

By Jeannine Manning Hutson

It will take more than just one week to mark 100 years of East Carolina University. Instead, the university will launch a centennial celebration lasting two and one-half years.

The kickoff will be March 8, the 100th anniversary of the N.C. Legislature’s decision to create a teacher training school in eastern North Carolina.

During 2007, 2008 and most of 2009, special events and lectures will mark the more than two years it took for the first faculty and staff to prepare for the first students to arrive for class on Oct. 5, 1909.

“The events are celebratory and purposeful to stay true to the mission and spirit of ECU through the years,” said Austin Bunch, co-chair of the Centennial Task Force. “Throughout the two and one-half years, we’ll have a variety of events including special activities to highlight women in the history of ECU, diversity in the history of ECU, the arts at ECU, and ECU’s innovations and ground-breaking discoveries.”

Bunch is keeping his fingers crossed that a joint session of the N.C. General Assembly will be held March 8 on campus in honor of ECU’s establishment.

“But that hasn’t been finalized yet,” he said. “We hope to know by mid-February.”

“No Time for Ivy” and “Promises Kept,” present a history of the university to mark its centennial. (Photo by Jeannine Manning Hutson)

Whether or not the joint session is held in Greenville, March 8 will be busy at ECU. The day will begin with a community leaders’ breakfast hosted by the Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce. The annual Dinner on the Grounds will be enhanced with music and other activities on the campus mall.

“We will also announce the inaugural Centennial Awards for Excellence for faculty and staff. This set of awards replaces the Founder’s Day, Synergy and Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence,” Bunch said.

The Chancellor’s Forum of Service will be held at 3 p.m. in Hendrix Theatre. “Each year of the centennial celebration, there will be a different focus for the forum,” he said.

The forum, which focuses on the importance of public service and volunteerism, will be moderated by former ECU English faculty member and North Carolina Secretary of State Janice H. Faulkner.

The panelists will be Phillip Dixon, UNC Board of Governors member and former ECU Board of Trustees chair; Dr. Ruth Shaw, an ECU alumna; and former North Carolina governor James B. Hunt Jr.

At the forum, Chancellor Steve Ballard will announce the establishment of the Servire society, recognizing ECU faculty, staff and students involved in public service activities.

Servire, Latin meaning “to serve,” was adopted as the motto of the university in 1915 or 1916, according to Henry Ferrell, an ECU history professor who was named university historian in 2002. To mark the centennial, two histories of the university have been published: “Promises Kept: East Carolina University, 1980-2007” and “No Time for Ivy: East Carolina University, 1907-2007,” a pictorial history of the university.

Both were written or edited by Ferrell and published by BW&A Books in Durham.

“Promises Kept” picks up where Mary Jo Bratton’s history, “East Carolina University: The Formative Years, 1907-1982” ended.

Researching two books proved to be a Herculean effort. Ferrell decided to make the book a topical history instead of a linear one. He asked colleagues from across the university to write on such topics as campus planning, building development, faculty and staff, student life, athletics and entertainment and the establishment of the medical school.

“I believe the result is a good cross-section of how a modern university operates,” Ferrell said.

“We also had the advantage of time. I only had to teach two courses each semester while working on the project,” said Ferrell, who has been assigned full time as university historian. He was aided in his work by Suellyn Lathrop, university archivist.

“‘No Time for Ivy’ is the people’s history. We talk about students, town folks, and we pay attention to the changes in administration as well,” Ferrell said.

Ferrell’s “No Time for Ivy,” recounts the beginning of East Carolina Teachers Training School under the steady hand of former North Carolina Gov. Thomas J. Jarvis. The book concludes with the centennial.

“The university successfully spent the last third of its first century keeping promises made in the past. With the first century’s conclusion, despite false starts and external interruptions, East Carolina prepared to greet its second,” Ferrell wrote.

Ferrell found interesting ECU historical nuggets: royal purple and old gold appeared as the university’s colors in 1915 or 1916; the first pirate logo showed up in 1934; in the 1930s “Teachers” appeared on athletic sweatshirts as a nickname; all East Carolina sports teams became identified as “Pirates” after World War II.

For more information on ECU’s centennial celebration plans, visit

Copies of Ferrell’s books are available for purchase in the Dowdy Student Stores.

This page originally appeared in the Jan. 26, 2006 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at